After last week’s stellar premiere, How I Met Your Mother now begins the grunt work of exploring and developing the relationships they’ve chosen to put forth. While Ted/Victoria and Barney/Quinn are hardly new pairings, their relationships have shifted over the course of last season’s finale and last week’s premiere, and “The Pre-Nup” explores how the auspices of marriage change a relationship that, beforehand, had been working just fine. In addition, the episode explores how parenthood creates new challenges between even the strongest marriages. Oh, and I guess there’s also a comment in there about how a relationship can still have a kernel of honesty to it, even if it’s based on shallow pretenses (although even if that’s not what they’re going for, it’s still worth it for Robin’s unsettling sexual fetish).
Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) is still game for walking down the aisle with Quinn (Becki Newton), but he’s decided to arm himself with a pre-nup on the advice of his co-worker, Arthur (Breaking Bad‘s Bob Odenkirk). Barney is hardly a stranger to tricking beautiful women into signing vague, self-serving documents, as Ted attests when mentioning Barney’s bar-napkin contract for one night stands, a “pre-schtup.” However, Quinn insists on reading the document first, and what follows is an elaborate list of characteristic Stinsonisms:
-Quinn has to pay $2000 every time she gains a pound
-In the event of divorce, Barney still gets visitation rights to Quinn’s lady parts.
-Quinn is tasked with inventing 12 new sexual positions per year, 10 of which must involve her doing all the work.
-She must have her breasts augmented every 5 years, or every 50 “honka-honkas,” whichever comes first.
-All hair below the neck must be removed weekly (which will come in handy for the weigh-in, says Barney).
-Her parents can visit whenever they like, for as long as they like, as long as they arrive in an urn.
-Oh, and he is to be woken up by hot women having pillow fights.
The pre-nup is so over-the-top that it’s hard to believe the episode means to take it seriously, but that’s more or less what happens, with Quinn taking offense and Barney trying to rationalize his demands. Stranger still, Ted (Josh Radnor) and Marshall (Jason Segel) take Barney’s side, arguing that while his demands are absurd, it’s not that outlandish to want to renegotiate the terms of a relationship. This dovetails into each of the guys telling their significant others what they would change about them, which balloons into an argument that promises to break up one of the couples by episode’s end (as future voiceover Ted explains that this is “The Autumn of Breakups”). The guys siding with Barney isn’t an altogether out-of-nowhere development, but it does seem somewhat ham-fisted that they wouldn’t see how cartoonishly wrong Barney is. However, the episode is well-served by the conflict it creates among the couples, forcing the issue of the temporary nature of these relationships, as we know Barney has to get to Robin and Ted to the Mother, and likely by season’s end.
The resulting conflict from the pre-nup fallout features an escalating series of absurd arguments that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does, but the relationships (excluding the new Robin/Nick pairing) are grounded in honest emotions. In addition, the cast goes to town with the material, showcasing the continued strength of the ensemble, even in this eighth season. Each conflict is window-dressing for a larger issue beneath the surface, and, again, it’s the guest star, Odenkirk as Arthur, who comes to the rescue (mirroring Klaus’s speech at the end of last week). The couples are forced by Arthur to confront the real issues that are straining their relationships and creating all this surface-pettiness:
-Lily (Alyson Hannigan) feels Marshall is too rough with baby Marvin, while Marshall thinks Lily is “too precious” with the boy, citing his rough-and-tumble upbringing. The issue at hand, however, is that Marshall is fearful of not being a good father, while Lily admits to being overly critical of Marshall due to her own lingering daddy issues.
-Ted offered the homeless, jobless Klaus (Thomas Lennon) the guest room in his apartment, telling Victoria (Ashley Williams) not to think of it as only his apartment, but theirs. But when Klaus quickly becomes so irritating that he kicks Klaus out, Victoria is furious that it’s suddenly not “their apartment” anymore, but Ted’s. Ted’s admits his fear that the presence of Klaus means he and Victoria will never escape the past, while Victoria’s anger with Ted over his unwillingness to continue helping Klaus is spurned by her guilt about being so happy with Ted.
-Robin (Cobie Smulders) looks at the TV while Nick (Michael Trucco) is trying to please her, and he snaps at her inattentiveness, however he confesses that his real concern is that Robin doesn’t find him as sexy as he finds her. Robin…confesses that she likes to watch herself on the news during sex (even giving herself a “good night” wink while on the air, which she’ll then see after sex on the syndicated re-airing). Nick is surprisingly okay with it, illustrating that sometimes a relationship between two hot people can occasionally work, for a while at least, when based on nothing else but that shallow foundation. Maybe. All I know is that Cobie Smulders is excellent with the material.
Though the episode purports to revolve around the mystery of which couple will be Splitsville by episode’s end, we don’t really touch on it much throughout the episode, which is a smart enough diversion tactic to make it feel like a surprise when Barney and Quinn decide to split up, upon admitting that neither one trusts the other. The aftermath is set to “Museum of Flight” by Damien Jurado, and it’s a very affecting music cue on a series that’s pretty good at selecting what songs fit the mood, and though the weepy guitars and plaintive lyrics can be a bit rote at times, this was note-perfect for a breakup we knew had to come, but is nonetheless affecting, if only because it sucks to see Barney down in the dumps.
That said, I can’t say I’m sad to see Quinn go, even if I did find her counter pre-nup pretty amusing (particularly the clause that Quinn gets custody of Barney’s suits in order to hoard them until they go out of style, though the shock collar around the privates is too horrifying a prospect for any man to laugh at). Quinn always had that aura of the temporary around her, much like the women Ted has dated over the course of the series, Victoria included, so I can understand the sense that maybe she was a waste of time. However, her character served a valuable function in bringing Barney to the realization that he is the marrying type, even if he swears off marriage at the end of the episode. Cue the flashforward to Barney talking with his colleagues about how legen(wait for it)dary his wedding is going to be, when fiance Robin enters and the lovebirds share a kiss before heading out. Arthur asks if Barney’s going to have her sign a pre-nup. Of course, the answer is no.
For as much as people want to get to the end game, How I Met Your Mother is a show that hasn’t really been about the end. As cliche as it might be to say, it really is about the journey, with these characters. The failed relationships, the triumphs and personal tragedies, they all are formative elements in making these people into human beings who are strong enough to weather what the future holds for them. In Ted and Barney’s cases, specifically, the relationships are about helping them to discover what they want in a life partner. For every Zoey, Stella, and Victoria, Ted comes that much closer to becoming the man he needs to be in order to be with the Mother, while the Noras and Quinns of the world help Barney to realize his own capacity for love, his need for something beyond sex, and the desire not to be alone for the rest of his life. The arcs are even there for the women, as Robin, in particular, comes to realize that there are people in the world who’ll accept and love her for who she is, Robin Sparkles and all. It may be “The Autumn of Breakups” on How I Met Your Mother, but the breakups are all geared toward getting these characters to the ends they deserve.